Angry Taiwanese lawmakers burned China's flag in protest Monday and the
island denounced a new anti-secession law in
Beijing as a "serious provocation" while Chinese Premier
Wen Jiabao warned the
United States to stay on the sidelines of the dispute.
An aide to Taiwanese President Chen Shui-bian, Cabinet spokesman Cho
Jung-tai, called the new law "tantamount to an authorization of war." The law
sets conditions for when
China may launch a military attack to pull the
independently governed island under its wing by force.
Taipei made plans to put as many as a million protesters
on the streets
March 26 in opposition to the law, a tactic taken from the
playbook of pro-democracy activists in
Hong Kong who've been a thorn in Beijing's side.
Wen, at a once-a-year news conference, described the anti-secession law the
National People's Congress approved earlier in the day as "by no means a war
bill." He said
China would strive to ensure that no fighting broke out
"So long as there is a ray of hope, we will do our utmost to promote a
peaceful reunification," he said.
Nonetheless, in an expression of China's growing military confidence, Wen
United States to stay on the sidelines of the dispute
Taiwan, indicating that
China may no longer fear the
United States militarily.
The Bush administration expressed concern about the law Monday.
"We do view the adoption of the anti-secession law as something that is
unfortunate and not helpful to encouraging peace and stability in the
Taiwan Strait," White House spokesman Scott McClellan
said. "We don't believe anyone should be taking unilateral steps or make
unilateral changes that increases tensions."
State Department spokesman
Richard Boucher said Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice
planned to raise the new law with Chinese officials when she stopped in
China later this week.
Kenneth Lieberthal, a former Clinton administration
China adviser, said
China had begun drafting the law last year when it
thought that December legislative elections in
Taiwan would strengthen the pro-independence movement.
Even though pro-independence forces did poorly in the election, Chinese
leaders decided to proceed with the law to make clear their willingness to use
force, said Lieberthal, who's a scholar at the Brookings Institution, a
liberal to moderate public-policy institute in Washington.
Taiwan is a renegade province, and it fears that letting
the island out of its grasp could spark secession drives in other regions,
such as Tibet, and weaken the legitimacy of the ruling Communist Party.
Taiwan, an island of 23 million people with nearly 13
times greater per-capita income than the mainland, has governed itself for
more than five decades and says it's already a sovereign country. A statement
by Taipei's Mainland Affairs Council on Monday called Beijing's contention
that the two sides belong to "one
China" a fiction.
Beijing, the anti-secession bill sailed through the
National People's Congress, a ceremonial body controlled by the Communist
Party, with a vote of 2,896 delegates in favor and no one opposed. Two members
President Hu Jintao immediately signed the bill and enacted
it into law.
The law, which wasn't unveiled to the public until Monday, says
Taiwan will be granted a "high degree of autonomy" after
reunification. It says
Beijing will work for direct links of trade, mail, and
air and shipping services immediately.
In its final paragraphs, the law enshrines China's right to use
"non-peaceful force" against the island, and sets three trip wires for that
eventuality: It stipulates that
China may attack
Taiwan if pro-independence forces cause secession, if
"major incidents" entailing a move toward secession occur or if "possibilities
for a peaceful reunification should be completely exhausted."
Enactment came a day after Hu met with military leaders of the 2.5
million-member People's Liberation Army and exhorted them to increase their
training. Coverage of the meeting was splashed across newspapers' front pages
"We shall step up preparations for possible military struggle and enhance
our capabilities to cope with crises, safeguard peace, prevent wars and win
wars, if there are any," Hu said, according to the
China already has some 700 short-range missiles aimed at
Wen was asked to clarify whether
China is building an army that could "win any war" - as
the premier said earlier this month - even if the
United States is drawn into a conflict over
"Taiwan is completely China's affair," Wen said,
enunciating each word slowly. "It brooks no interference from any foreign
country. We do not want foreign interference, yet we are not afraid of any."
Chinese reporters at the news conference burst into applause at the remark.
Washington has sold
Taiwan billions of dollars in armaments in recent
decades, and is obligated by Congress under the 1979
Taiwan Relations Act to help the island defend itself.
Washington has urged both sides to resolve their differences peacefully.